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Massey researcher leads clinical trials at VCU on investigational drug therapy for COVID-19

Jun 26, 2020

ArunSanyal

The trials represent a first-of-its-kind partnership among hepatology, infectious disease, critical care-pulmonology and cardiology departments at VCU. Sanyal leads the trials with a team of infectious disease doctors (Gonzalo M. Bearman, M.D., Michael P. Stevens, M.D., and Michelle E. Doll, M.D.), pulmonary critical care doctors (Marjolein de Wit, M.D., Lisa Brath, M.D., and Curtis N. Sessler, M.D.), researchers in inflammation (Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D., and Benjamin Van Tassell, Pharm.D.) and VCU research and ethics staff.

“This has been really an exceptional team,” Sanyal said. “We were able to get the trial off the ground, meeting all of the complex regulatory requirements along the way, within a 72-hour time frame primarily because of the alignment of mission and vision and an extraordinary team effort from everybody involved.”

It is not one person’s trial, he added. The physicians, nursing staff, pharmacists and administrative staff came together to integrate the trial conduct with routine clinical care for eligible patients.

At VCU and VCU Health, the research represents just one response to a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands worldwide, including hundreds in the United States. With no approved medications to treat the virus currently, there is an urgent need for effective treatments.

“These clinical trials and the ongoing research of nationally prominent universities like VCU will quickly advance how health care teams treat COVID-19 around the world,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “We are proud of our research and health care teams, who are working hard to save lives and find solutions for patients with COVID-19.”

VCU Health is prepared for and is responding to the threat of the virus, and doctors are taking precautions to ensure the safety of all visitors, team members and patients, including those with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the hospital. Those in the trials are isolated.

“Our team members at VCU and VCU Health have been actively searching for ways to combat COVID-19, a virus that has disrupted our lives and the lives of those we serve,” said Peter Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine and interim senior vice president for VCU Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health System. “Our teams are working seamlessly to make this investigational drug therapy available to those who are most affected by this virus.”

Sanyal, the principal investigator for the remdesivir trials, is also the associate director of the KL2 program for training faculty in research at VCU’s C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research, which oversees clinical trials at the university with the help of a $21.5 million National Institutes of Health grant.

The Wright Center, in collaboration with Sanyal’s team, developed a patient referral portal that allows doctors at other institutions to communicate with the trial team at VCU about possible participation for patients who meet the criteria — positive for COVID-19, hospitalized with a documented fever. If a patient from another health care provider qualifies, the patient could be eligible to transfer to VCU Medical Center to participate in the trial.

More information for researchers on these trials — for patients experiencing severe and moderate symptoms — is available at the National Institutes of Health.

Shawn Fenner, clinical research coordinator in VCU’s Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, contributed to this report.

Written by: University Public Affairs

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